[Alert! There is mild cursing in this post. “*” indicates a name that has been changed]
“I want you to draw a picture of what you did over the summer, and in a little while you’ll share what you did with the rest of the class.”
It all began with this simple assignment given by Mrs. Dorgan* on the first day of second grade. My little 7 year-old mind reflected on the last 3 months of unadulterated summer slacking and overall uselessness. I had nothing. Toys? Yeah, I played with my toys. I ran around in circles outside and watched ants. I pretended my dog Dunder was a pony and tried to convince him to let me sit on his back. I wrote a letter to my great-grandfather, and forgot how to spell “of.” That was it. My family didn’t go anywhere and my neighborhood didn’t have any kids my age, so I played by myself all summer long. How would I draw that?
I decided to stretch the truth a little bit; prior to that summer, I made a fort with a girl the neighbors babysat. It was a really cool fort made out of all of the dangerous materials my neighbors dumped in their backyard. That would make a decent picture – I’d say I made a fort over the summer. Yeah, that’s it.
As I drew a picture of me making a fort, I looked around at the classmates whose desks neighbored mine. One girl was drawing a picture of Greece, because her family took her there. Another kid was drawing a picture of Disneyworld. Another kid was drawing a picture of a tent and fishing. I looked down at my pathetic drawing of me laying a piece of sheet metal against a boulder. This would simply not do. How can I jazz this up a bit?
At the time, I had a fascination with rainbows. I desperately wanted to see one, and I wanted to look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (Don’t judge. It’s no more out there than Santa Claus). I told my father this, and asked him how you get to the pot of gold. My dad smiled and said, “well, you just walk on the rainbow, and slide down to the pot of gold.”
“You can walk on rainbows??”
“Yup! It’s real easy. You just have to walk quickly because they disappear fast. The leprechauns make it tricky for people.”
“Wow…Have you ever walked on a rainbow?”
“I have. But it went away before I got to the pot of gold.”
And like that, dad was God. He also gave me an idea; an idea that would let my lame summer compete with Greece and Disneyworld.
After we finished with our drawings, we had to go up in front of the class and present them. Everyone had the best summer – horseback riding, camping, traveling… then it was my turn.
I stood in front of the class and everyone looked at my picture curiously. Mrs. Dorgan looked annoyed. I began to describe my picture and summer to the class. “This past summer, me and my friend Krista made a big fort. We saw a rainbow. My dog walked on it. It was neat.” Yeah. That.Just.Happened. Sure, Greece is cool; does it beat a Labrador Retriever walking on a rainbow? I don’t think so.
“But it is…”
“You can’t walk on a rainbow!”
I paused. Damn it! I scrambled. “Well…Dunder didn’t really walk on a rainbow. We made a bridge over the fort, and he was walking on that. And it looked like he walked on the rainbow.”
“Sit down, and stop lying.”
I sat down quietly. From that moment forward, Mrs. Dorgan hated me. For my part, I continued to give her plenty of reason to hate me for being the pathological liar that I was.
On another occasion, we were at recess. Two of the girls were playing a game they made up called “I have a secret.” One girl would whisper something to the other girl in front of me, and then they’d tell me that it was a secret and they couldn’t tell me. The secret always seemed really crazy and mysterious. I didn’t have any secrets, so, I made one up. “I have a secret!” I leaned over to one of the girls, Jean, and whispered, “Peter was pushing Angela on the tire swing, and she showed him her underwear!”
Jean squealed with delight at this scandalous secret. “Ooo! I’m telling Angela!” No! She jumped up and ran off. I yelled after her. “Stop! It’s a secret! You’re not supposed to tell!”
She ignored me and ran up to Angela, who was clear across the playground. Angela looked over at me from the distance and screamed at the top of her lungs, “that’s a lie, Anne-Marie! I’m telling Mrs. Dorgan!”
Oh, shit. Mrs. Dorgan was going to kill me. I looked at the eager eyes of my nearby classmates – not everyone knew what I did, but they all knew I was busted for something. Only one idea crossed my mind at that moment – run like hell. I took off, my gangly legs running as fast as possible towards the western edge of the playground. There was a fence there. Maybe there was a hole in the fence – I could squeeze through there, or I could even scale the fence. I’d get away, and Mrs. Dorgan wouldn’t murder me; or worse, yell at me. Or even worse, tell my mom.
A few of the kids in my class chased after me like a bunch of bloodthirsty little bounty hunters. I got to the fence, but couldn’t find an opening. I tried to scale the fence, but my spaghetti noodle arms failed me. No! One of the bounty hunters, My Elementary School Nemesis, grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me down. My attempted prison break failed. Nemesis looked at me sympathetically. Although she was thirsty for The Hunt, she knew it could have easily been her in my shoes. “Mrs. Dorgan wants to see you. She’s mad.” Mrs. Dorgan was always freaking mad, but I knew I was doomed.
I slowly made my way to the tire dragon where Mrs. Dorgan sat. Angela was standing next to her. All the kids stared at me, knowing my fate; I could have sworn I heard chants of “dead man walking…dead man walking.”
I stood silently in front of Mrs. Dorgan. Her black eyes glared at me with a wrath I had never seen. “Why did you lie?”
“I don’t know…”
“Do you know what happens to little girls who lie?”
“They have no friends and nobody likes them.”
I started to cry. Mrs. Dorgan looked disgusted with me. “Tell Angela you’re sorry.”
“I’m sorry, Angela.”
Angela shrugged her shoulders, nonchalantly. “It’s okay; we’re still friends!”
You would think after these two instances I would have learned my lesson, wouldn’t you? About a month later, we were studying geography, and Mrs. Dorgan went around the class wanting students to share what the BEST trip they ever took was. My heart sank – I never took a trip before. What was I going to say? Everyone had great answers – guess who brought up freaking Greece again? Of course, Disneyworld was mentioned, and a magical land called Philadelphia…I remembered my favorite Dennis the Menace comic book…
Mrs. Dorgan got to me. “Anne-Marie, what was YOUR best trip?”
I smiled. “I traveled around the world with my family!”
The class “ooo-eed.” I don’t know how Mrs. Dorgan could believe a word out of my mouth after the web of lies I weaved up to this point, but she inexplicably believed this one. Her eyes widened, and for once, she didn’t look at me with anger. “Oh, how wonderful! Where did you go?”
I thought of where Dennis the Menace went. “You know… France, the Netherlands, England, China…”
Her eyes closed in delight. “What a wonderful trip. How lucky you were!”
I felt uncomfortable. She was way more into my lie than I expected. I should have just stuck with Paris. “Yeah…I guess.” She moved on to the next kid, and I thought I was done with it; until my mom met Mrs. Dorgan at a parent-teacher conference. I dreaded the day, knowing it was very likely I would be exposed. My mother came home, and as soon as the door closed, I knew I was in deep shit. “Anne-Marie!”
I walked up to my mom. She was furious with me. Apparently, Mrs. Dorgan started asking my mom all of these questions about our travels, and my mom looked at her like she was crazy. Mom told Mrs. Dorgan that I made it all up. Now, mom was yelling at me for being such a liar. When I got to school the next day, Mrs. Dorgan pulled me outside of the classroom, her mouth finding its natural home in a deep and wrinkled frown. I was so dead to her. “You lied to me. Your mother said you never went traveling around the world! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
I lowered my head and didn’t say anything. For the rest of the time Mrs. Dorgan was our teacher, I feared going to school almost every day. Mrs. Dorgan truly despised me and would occasionally blow up at me in class. In her eyes, I was the devil. I wished I was invisible, and that I could take it all back. But I couldn’t, and I had to live with the consequences of my actions for as long as she was our teacher. I began to think that I really was a bad person. I was a lying liar, and I couldn’t keep myself from lying.
A little after the mid-year, Mrs. Dorgan had to leave for personal reasons, and she was replaced by Ms. Axelrod. I was afraid Mrs. Dorgan filled her in on what a demon child I was, but as soon as Ms. Axelrod talked to me, I felt like a weight was lifted. Unlike Mrs. Dorgan, she smiled a lot, and she entrusted me with responsibilities. I liked her. Life suddenly seemed different; for the first half of second grade, I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. Now, I felt like I was a really good kid. I wanted to be good, and do good things and I didn’t want to let Ms. Axelrod down. My grades went up. I looked forward to going to school every day.
I’d say my lying was over, but I’ll admit, we had to write another non-fiction story in class, and I had to make something up again. She knew I was making it up – it was an absurd story about how God gave me a pine tree for my birthday, but she never questioned me and even encouraged me. I wrote with a fury, and she praised me for it. The only story that was as long as mine was the story the one girl wrote about her trip to Greece (it was that girl’s ace in the hole, no doubt). I was sad when school year ended, knowing that Ms. Axelrod was no longer my teacher.
Thanks to my experiences as a 7 year-old lying liar, I learned an important lesson in life. I could be sentimental and preachy and tell you that I learned that lying takes far more energy and time than telling the truth; I could tell you that Ms. Axelrod taught me everyone deserves a second chance. Oh sure; these are lessons I carry with me to this day, but the real lesson I learned?
For God’s sake, if you are going to make shit up, fact-check that bitch and keep it small.